Women’s Shelter Resident Observes Daily Life

An Observation of Community Women’s Shelter (from the inside) Pt.1of a new series, “A Fly on the Wall”

Commentary by Diana Dennis

      In this series of reports, I hope to make the reader understand the varying circumstances leading to homelessness for many Cleveland area women (some with children) and the indignities they frequently endure as residents of

Community Women’s Shelter.

      I must admit I was quite naïve to the plight of homeless women and what the atmosphere in a homeless shelter is like before circumstances forced me to stay there. My perception, based on information provided to me over the telephone by a volunteer at United Way First Call For Help, was that residents of homeless shelters (in general) had to leave the premises daily upon rising in the morning and arrive back at the shelter or phone in between the hours or 3 to 6 p.m. to check for bed availability.

      I wondered, “How could a homeless individual, especially one without money, possibly afford even one phone call to any shelter or social agency, let alone telephoning on a daily basis to check on bed availability?” Perhaps this explains one aspect of the panhandling dilemma in this city.

      My first 24 hours at the shelter were a culture shock for me. During that short time I witnessed three outbursts by residents of the shelter-one physical and two emotional. All three incidents were brought on by something as innocent as someone unintentionally bumping or brushing up against another resident while passing through the narrow aisles between the tables in the community room. I remember one resident screaming out, “Don’t touch me! Don’t you ever touch me!” while the woman who brushed up against her tried to calm her with a heartfelt apology.

      What I soon discovered was that all three of these women were victims of physical and emotional abuse. I also observed that the staff, including security, is ill prepared or ill equipped to deal with the myriad problems and psychological trauma that abused women suffer. The result of these outbursts most likely will be suspension or arrest with jail time rather than crisis intervention, counseling, or medication for those who need it. Only in a shelter setting is someone suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from physical, emotional, sexual and/or domestic abuse treated like a criminal.

      Unlike the men’s shelter on Lakeside, there is an off-duty police officer on guard 24 hours a day at the women’s shelter. Although comforting to some of the women who feel more secure in knowing that weapons or any metal object may be confiscated upon entry into the main building, other residents are unnerved by their presence. The sight of any resident being physically taken down to the floor and handcuffed can be quite disruptive and is often emotionally disturbing for the vulnerable, especially those who left an atmosphere of physical abuse.

      Because the shelter is run by Mental Health Services, one would believe that ALL the residents of the shelter were homeless mental patients without the resources for adequate psychiatric care and psychological counseling. One might assume that psychiatric nurses with mental health counseling expertise would be on staff 24/7. Such is not the case. The truth is that only one nurse is on staff during the day- Monday through Friday only. Any resident with seizure disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease will not receive immediate care as a result of the absence of medical staff in the evenings or during the weekends.

      Women who have suffered some sort of physical, sexual or emotional abuse may also have anxiety disorders with depression. They come to the shelter without clothing or any personal effects, much less identification, medications, or money. Some also have physical disabilities, which compound their dilemma. Some of the abused come with children in tow. All are trying to escape a volatile situation only to find themselves in, what many women (including those with a past incarceration) describe as an atmosphere “worse than prison.”

      Due to the size of the facility, Community Women’s Shelter lacks the space to divide the population of the shelter into smaller, easier to manage units with staff assigned to each unit to address issues accordingly. The sleeping quarters have been somewhat segregated for those receiving treatment for mental conditions or substance abuse and those who work-but not in all cases. However, space does not permit separation for those who remain at the shelter during the day in common areas on the property. With so many people crammed in such a small area, it is easy for tempers to flare and impossible to avoid someone else who may be more easily disturbed.

      Daily there is some form of personality conflict between residents. Unless they are physically capable of leaving the premises during the daytime, many are confined on the property-either having to sit outside on the three benches in the main driveway or crowded in the Community Room that also serves as dining room and sleeping area when beds are not available. Mats are provided to those in need when a bed is not available.

      Those being punished for missing the 9:30 p.m. curfew or having a disorderly conduct infraction will spend the night sleeping upright in a chair rather than being permitted to lie down on a mat. Disorderly conduct has included something as juvenile as refusing to turn down a portable radio because a roommate trying to sleep is being disturbed by ‘the offender’s’ music despite the use of headphones. Police intervention and removal of such an “offender” from the sleeping quarters disrupts the sleep of all residents in the sleeping quarters when initially only one resident was bothered.

      The three benches, located in the driveway facing 22nd street, not only leave the residents exposed to the searing sun during the daytime but also visibly expose the residents to passersby, thus offering no protection of anonymity. Statistics demonstrate that, in instances of domestic violence, once the victim escapes her home the batterer will first check local shelters in hopes of finding her. With residents sitting outside in clear view it would be easy for an abuser to quickly find his victim. Women with children are especially vulnerable.

      When its doors opened in February 2004, future goals for Community Women’s Shelter included developing a women’s health campus between the two buildings with an outdoor recreation area and community center in the lower level of building 2 (after Care Alliance moves out of the building). More than a year has passed and most of these goals presently remain on hold until Care Alliance vacates its current Payne Avenue residence. 

      I see no reason why the parking area between the main shelter building and the Care Alliance facility can’t be utilized as a private outdoor sitting area in the interim. Many of the residents would prefer to congregate in the shade between the two buildings to escape the sun’s burning rays while the Community Room/Dining Room is cleaned after supper. They wish that the benches were located between the two buildings.

      In her article “New Home, Fresh Start for Women’s Shelter” (The Homeless Grapevine #67 Nov.-Dec. 2004) Pamela Vincent wrote: “The top concerns of the women were that they had no choice but to spend the entire day in one room with all of the women no matter their mental illness, health problem or addiction all together.”

      In the continuance of this series, I will discuss the crowded conditions at the shelter and their effects on the women residing there.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 72 August 2005 Cleveland, Ohio.


Editorial: Women’s Shelter Need Immediate Reform

by Editors

     The Grapevine has tracked the difficulty that women and families in need of shelter have experienced over the past four years. From deplorable conditions in a garage to everyone being crammed into a gymnasium, homeless women have faced depressing and disruptive obstacles to stability. The physical condition of the shelter has improved over the past year and a half, but the treatment of women has plummeted.

      Over the past year, there were many stories in the Grapevine both from women who stay in the shelters and reporters about the current shelter operations. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Board of Trustees wrote in opposition to a mental health program (Mental Health Services) taking control of the shelter operations in 2004. All of this attention in the Grapevine has led to NEOCH staff being banned from the facility. In fact, NEOCH’s Director and a Grapevine editor were threatened with arrest by the police officer at the shelter.

      In a July 2005 meeting of the Office of Homeless Services, the Advisory Board was presented with an “investigation” by staff of the Office concerning the allegations made by the Coalition. Not one homeless person was interviewed and the opinions of the people actually using the service were not taken into account. Instead they only asked shelter and MHS staff about these concerns. It was similar to looking into the Enron scandal by only asking Enron employees if they were all being honest with the books. The problems of the women shelter were relegated to the last 15 minutes of the meeting. The Board actually spent the same amount of time giving flowers to two departing members of this so-called “advisory” board.

      Addressing the treatment of the women at the two family shelters seemed almost to be an afterthought. They seemed so hesitant to address this issue that one member attacked Brian Davis as a “dictator” for attempting to “bully” the rest of the board into a response. There was no reckoning of the fact that the shelter has refused to respond to signed complaints from women. The question of the morality of banning advocates from the shelters by MHS senior staff was also not addressed.

      The problem is that this facility has had such a checkered past that any improvement is seen as a victory. While the physical facility is better, based on the information that has appeared in this paper, we are not so sure that it is any better for the women. The main issue is that the fear factor within the shelter is still not taken into account. Women are afraid that they will be kicked out or punished at the facility for speaking out about the deplorable treatment they receive. We have seen families be threatened by staff that the County child abuse hotline will be called on them if the mother does not accept a transfer to a “more appropriate” facility. It has gone to the point that current residents are afraid to talk about the problems because they are afraid that it will get back to staff and they will be kicked out.

      One root cause of these problems is that the shelter makes rules to accommodate staff, not the residents. If the facility is not appropriate for children and 1/4 of the people showing up are under 17, then make the facility appropriate. If security is an issue, don’t violate the privacy of every single resident, but figure out a strategy to address the problem. If curfew is an issue then figure out a way to address that problem in a reasonable and humane fashion, not by forcing the women to sit up in the cafeteria all night. If women congregating outside are a problem, then set up an alternative place to gather. Don’t put a bench in the hot sun so that it is nearly impossible to sit outside during the summer. Women and children should not be treated like criminals just because they are poor and cannot afford housing.

      The solution is to pass a shelter standard law as the District of Columbia recently approved. This would protect the privacy of women and would make sure that families are not split up when they become homeless. This would make it law that homeless families cannot be evicted from a shelter to the streets as happens on a regular basis today. At this time we have shelter recommendations, no standards that are currently enforceable by any entity in the community.

      We also see a need for another agency to step in and co-administer the shelter. There should be a staff person present who could act as real client advocate for the individuals to help eliminate the fear from the shelter. It is nearly impossible to move to stability in an environment of fear and intimidation. The community needs to demand better, and assure that homeless women are not treated with such disrespect. Just because the facility looks better on the surface, advocates cannot just sit on the sidelines and rest on their laurels based on the notion that, “At least it is better than five years ago.”

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 72 August 2005 Cleveland, Ohio.

Non-Custodial Parents Often Can’t Support Themselves

Commentary by Mike

       Historian J. D. Unwin and sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, both world-renowned thinkers who have studied ancient civilizations, assert that “Nations most often fall from within, and this fall is usually due to a decline in the moral and spiritual values in the family. As families go, so goes a nation.” In his book Our Dance Has Turned to Death, author Carl Wilson also identifies a common pattern of family decline during the demise of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. In the first stage, men ceased to lead their families in worship. In the second stage, men selfishly neglected care of their wives and children to pursue material wealth, political and military power, as well as cultural achievement. Material values begin to dominate thought, and men began to exalt their own roles as individuals over the importance of their families.

       Fast forward to today: Sunday church services in our urban churches around the nation today are largely attended by female worshipers. Travel through any African-American neighborhood, for example, and you’ll discover just as many houses of worship next door to one another as you will hair salons. For the record, the demographics of most religious institutions reflect a dominant female congregation devoid of a large numbers of young males. Is this evidence of our

decline as a nation? Why aren’t the majority of fathers leading their sons to worship? Where are they?

       According to a recent poll conducted by the National Fatherhood Institute, the time a father spends with his children is deemed more important for children than money or material gifts. While this nationally noted organization states the obvious, it also understands the benefits of monetary child support in sustaining a growing child’s well being when marriages or relationships collapse. But does mandated child support actually work in the best interests of children, or does it in actuality further the divide between the non-custodial parent and his offspring?

       Mandated Child Support is supposed to be a reasonable percentage of a person’s actual wages based on the number of children being supported. Once that amount is taken out of an individual’s wages, does that leave the non-custodial parent enough to “support” himself or herself? Does it matter to the enforcement agency if the non-custodial parent has enough to live on? The hard truth is that neither the enforcement agency nor the policymaker’s care what the providing parent has left. Many fathers’ rights advocates will attest to that. Modification of a payment plan takes a long time even if the non-custodial parent loses his or her employment, is incarnated or is injured on the job. God help you if you overpay; don’t expect a refund of your overpayment. 

       Many non-custodial fathers are forced to find second jobs in order to survive and not become homeless. Second jobs necessitated by exceedingly large child support payments severely limit the quality time a father has to spend with his kids at church, the ballpark or helping with homework. With the instability of the job market in this region, that foot forces the most well-intentioned father to put off establishing essential parent-child relationships. At this fifth stage of author Carl Wilson’s pattern of family decline, ex-lovers and partners, former husbands and wives are now pitted against each other, competing for money, home leadership, and the affection of their children.

       In the current environment, many children are left feeling unwanted, aborted, abandoned, pawned and undisciplined. These dispirited children grow into the neighborhood youth you see “hanging out on the corner” inches away from becoming delinquent, pregnant, drug offenders or possibly homeless.

      The television show Nightline refers to these disaffected youth as the “lost generation.” Aided by our current child support enforcement policy and procedures, the breakdown of our homes and family structure has produced anarchy. Just a quick view of our bustling prison system underscores this point. With urban sprawl, we’re now seeing this same phenomenon in the suburbs and rural areas. Adults are in- increasingly afraid of our youth. Our youth are increasingly angry. Our society has lapsed into neo-Jim Crow segregation patterns based on class as upwardly mobile families and jobs have fled Cleveland. Even the notion of child support has produced such a selfish individualism that it’s hard to hold a simple, civil conversation between men and women regarding the subject. Too often it grows into a hostile debate, crushing relationships into dust.

       Our nation has been weakened by this parental conflict of mom vs. dad. Where the problem may have initially arisen from personal issues, systemic policy and mandated enforcement orders have helped to weaken and erode the family structure as well. Our government needs a policy overhaul to rewrite child support in order to rebuild the family structure. Monetary support is just one facet of raising a child to adulthood. When a family matter becomes a legal matter and later a criminal matter perpetuated by penalties, service charges, and prison time, much is terribly wrong with the status quo. 

       The lessons of ancient Greece and Rome are still relevant today. Families are the bedrock of a nation. When the family crumbles, the nation falls. Nations are built upon family relationships, not just mandated monetary payments.

 Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 72 August 2005 Cleveland, Ohio.

NASNA’s Transition May Leave Smaller Papers Behind

Commentary by Kevin E. Cleary

      The North American Street Newspaper Association (NASNA) held its latest conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia from July 28th through the 31st. (NASNA was created as a trade organization to help homeless papers stabilize themselves.) A number of seminars and events were hosted by Halifax’s Street Feat and administered by NASNA staff and volunteers.

       The main issues discussed this year by the voting members of NASNA were the election of the new Executive Committee and the ratification of NASNA’s strategic plan. Seven members of the Executive Committee ran uncontested, and 3 candidates vied for 2 slots as Associate members (meaning they were not affiliated with street newspapers) of the EC. The vote tally was apparently very close, which resulted in Linda Dumant being granted an Honorary Associate membership on the Committee as her paper’s charitable status was still pending.

       Slightly more contentious was the debate around ratifying NASNA’s strategic plan, which includes the intention to bring NASNA into the fold of an international street newspaper organization, the International Network of Street newspapers (INSP). As a voting member of a decidedly “grassroots” paper, I felt it was my duty to represent the concerns of other smaller street newspapers. I still feel that the concerns of such papers were not really addressed, but the strategic plan was ratified with one abstention (my own).

       While I am not opposed in principle to joining an international “movement,” I do question what tangible benefit doing so will bring to smaller papers. Currently, the day-to-day benefits of NASNA lie mostly in our ability to share content between papers. To me, the main objective of NASNA conferences should be the ability to network with other papers, and meet the individuals behind them face-to-face. The regimented chaos of the seminars seemed to me to be a distraction from what should be NASNA’s real purpose. 

       If the fees increase for membership, or the travel arrangements become more expensive, how will this affect the attendance of the papers with smaller budgets? In addition, many grassroots papers struggle to get attention and funding in their own communities. If the overall goal of NASNA is to become an international activist group, will this distract smaller papers from focusing on their core missions at home? Will these papers be able to justify the costs of membership and a flight to Luxembourg if the costs outweigh the tangible benefits?

       If NASNA is determined to take this course, and some of the smaller papers are left by the wayside, there may be a need for some sort of mini-NASNA in the future. Perhaps it would be something along the lines of a moderated web log where staff and volunteers of various street papers can gripe, share tactics and practices, and possibly content. 

       I am encouraged by the efforts of Ryan Richardson of the Madison Warming Center Campaign and The Homeless Cooperative to establish an independent list-serve for street papers in the Midwest, as this will not compete with NASNA, but may allow Midwest papers to discuss regional issues in a different forum. I would propose something along the lines of NASNAlite, wherein there will be no membership dues or efforts to conglomerate into a unified voice.

       I also propose a permanent prohibition against creating an acronym for this effort, as acronyms are sometimes the first step toward building unstoppable bureaucracy. This will also hopefully prevent the impression that such a forum would be in competition with NASNA, as it not my desire to undermine their efforts or larger goals. I merely feel that grassroots papers should have a place to go if their budgets or policies will not permit them to take on a mission of global activism.

       In closing, I would like to thank the staff and volunteers of Street Feat for being extremely kind, courteous, and hospitable, and especially for all of their hard work. I would also like to thank the staff and volunteers of NASNA for providing me with the opportunity to take part in the conference and meet the faces behind the newsprint.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 72 August 2005 Cleveland, Ohio.

Hate Crimes & Violence Against Homeless People Increasing


National Coalition for the Homeless Mr. Smith warns himself and others not to be cold, hard, or insensitive.

See story on page 8.

Photo by Kevin E. Cleary (not present in web version).

 For the past six years (1999- 2004), the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has tracked and reported on a disturbing increase in crimes targeting homeless people. These violent attacks on homeless people, one of our most vulnerable populations, result in injury and in many cases death.

The well-documented affordable housing crisis is not the only crisis to affect the millions of people who are homeless every year. There is also an increasing pattern of civil rights abuses and violence directed at the homeless population.  Homelessness is no longer simply an issue of the right to affordable housing but a matter of life and death. As the danger of living without a home increases, the lack of federal housing resources as well as the absence of the political will to end homelessness becomes increasingly more shameful.   

In October of 2004, three Milwaukee teens murdered a homeless man at his forest campsite. The teens hit 49-year old Rex Baum, with rocks, a flashlight, and a pipe, before smearing feces on his face and covering his body with leaves and plastic. 

In August of 2004, Curtis Gordon Adams, 33, beat and stabbed a disabled homeless man to death and then licked the blood from his fingers on a Denver sidewalk.

More recently, on May 28th 2005, in Holly Hill, Florida, 53-year-old Michael Roberts was beaten and punched to death with sticks and logs by a group of teenagers who admitted to beating the man just for fun, to have something to do. The autopsy report indicates that Roberts died of blunt-force trauma to the head and body, his ribs were broken, his skull was fractured, and his legs were badly injured. Defensive wounds were found on his hands. The boys returned several times to make sure the job was done.

 Homelessness is an issue that affects every community in America. Homeless people lack the protection of a locked door available to homeowners, leaving them in an unprotected position where they are subjected to hate crimes and violence. Sadly, the prevalence of hate crimes and violence against homeless people has risen, as well as negative stereotypes reinforced by the media and intolerant people.

       Through this report, NCH hopes to educate lawmakers, advocates, and the public about the problem of hate crimes and violence against homeless people, as well as call for a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study addressing this issue.

 This year’s report, Hate, Violence and Death on Main Street USA: A Report on Hate Crimes and Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness in 2004, includes data from news reports, advocates, victims’ accounts, and homeless shelters on the number of homeless victimizations that have occurred in the past six years (for the full 2004 report and previous reports, please visit http://nationalhomeless.org/civilrights/hatecrimes.html).

 Facts and Trends: The number of homeless deaths has risen by 67% since 2002. The number of non-lethal attacks against homeless people has risen by 281% since 2002.  These crimes occurred in 140 cities in the past six years. These crimes occurred in 39 states, plus Puerto Rico.  The age range of the accused/convicted ranged from 11 to 65 years of age. The age range of the victims ranged from 4 Months old to 74 Years of age. Gender of victims: 296 Male and 44 Female.

 Request for U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Study: U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-MI), along with the bipartisan support of 21 other members of Congress, is calling for a GAO study to assist Congress and the public in obtaining much-needed information on the extent and scope of violent acts and crimes against people experiencing homelessness. This request has been endorsed by nearly 500 local and national organizations. “

 A GAO study is urgently needed to shed light on this frightening trend of hate crimes and violence. These horrific acts threaten the lives of over 3.5 million women, men and children experiencing homelessness each year,” said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of NCH.

 Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 72 August 2005 Cleveland, Ohio.

Grapevine Vendors Vote to Support Aggressive Panhandling Ordinance

The vendors of the Grapevine voted to support the passage of legislation regulating panhandling despite NEOCH’s (The publisher of The Homeless Grapevine) opposition to the ordinance. The following letter was submitted on behalf of the vendors to Cleveland City Council on July 11, 2005 and read into the record:

 Dear Councilman Reed:

      The vendors of The Homeless Grapevine take the issue of panhandling very seriously because we utilize the same public space as panhandlers. As such, the issue came before our advisory board, and after a contentious vote, we agreed upon the need for Cleveland City Council to address this matter. Panhandlers compete with us for Valuable Street “retail space” as well as the sparse dollars upon which we rely for our hard-earned livelihood.

      We feel that panhandlers, especially those who are aggressive, need to be regulated. We are troubled by the large number of people asking for money, and feel that our business is unduly hampered by the negative impact of those who panhandle.

      While attempting to sell a legitimate product, we are often bypassed by potential customers who then give money to panhandlers; or in the adverse we are unjustly mistaken for such disreputable panhandlers and suffer discrimination and the loss of revenue accordingly.

      In light of these circumstances, the vendors of The Homeless Grapevine have voted to support City Council’s efforts in this regard. It is hoped that reducing or eliminating aggressive panhandling in downtown Cleveland will result in more positive results for us. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.


The Vendors of The Homeless Grapevine  

 Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 72 August 2005 Cleveland, Ohio.

Food Not Bombs Still Serving on Public Square

by Pamela Vincent

      “Get a picture of this wonderful fruit salad”, Ian Charnas directs me as I peer down into a large cooler filled with diced-up fresh fruit. As I snap off a few pictures he spoons out a hefty portion onto the plate of a hungry diner. On the other side of him is a pot of hot vegetable soup, the aroma wafting up through the group waiting to be served. We are not at some fancy restaurant and Ian is not a waiter…he’s a volunteer with the local chapter of Food Not Bombs (FNB) and we are outside, in downtown Cleveland, on Public Square on a hot and muggy Sunday afternoon. 

      Food Not Bombs is an organization with around 300 chapters nationwide who are dedicated to ending hunger in the world. The first chapter began in Boston in 1980 and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The great thing about the group is that it doesn’t just feed poor and hungry people; since its volunteers usually have low incomes themselves; they sit down and share their meals with the people whom they serve.

      Even though it’s hot outside on this Sunday afternoon, everyone is glad to be there. Not too long ago the City of Cleveland Mayor’s office wanted the group to relocate. Headed up by Craig Tame, the city’s Chief Health and Public Safety Officer, they considered the FNB’s group a blemish on the Public Square site, stating that the businesses in Tower City were complaining about homeless people using their restrooms and leaving garbage outside after the meals were served. Ian can’t speak for the homeless people using the restrooms but he says he and the rest of the volunteers personally clean up the site before they leave the area, and often leave it in better shape than they find it. FNB did not want to relocate to the proposed new site at 18th and Superior (the basement of a church). The Public Square site is easier for homeless and poor people to get to, and they’ve been relying on the delicious vegetarian meals every Sunday there for the past nine years.

      Undaunted, the volunteers for FNB started a campaign to save their meal site and sent out press releases and flyers stating their case to the public. Charnas had a lengthy conversation with Tame, and since then the City backed down and has not bothered the group. Needless to say the group is relieved, and has stepped up their efforts to feed homeless and poor people by raising funds to add another day to their meal service. Starting in August they plan to serve a 2nd meal on Tuesdays at Public Square.

      In the early days of the Cleveland chapter, the volunteers would take turns cooking in their own homes using old donated pots and pans. Recently they been using the kitchen at the Cleveland Food Co-Op at Euclid and E. 117th street and have acquired a second set of cookware to help prepare the 400 some pounds of food they serve each week. They serve all vegetarian meals and Charnas proudly claims the food is “the tastiest of all the FNB chapters.”

      The volunteers gather the food each week from various stores, bakeries and markets that would otherwise discard the food. In addition, the volunteers collect and hand out toiletries, feminine hygiene and health care items where needed. Currently there are 39 active volunteers in the local chapter but they have around 72 people on the collective list of those who’ve volunteered in the past. The volunteers of Food Not Bombs are very passionate and committed to their mission of ending world hunger. Lynn, a 25 year-old mother from Lakewood, has been a volunteer since she was 14 years old. This is the 3rd chapter with which she’s been affiliated, and she volunteers because she believes that “food is a right, not something you should have to pay for.” She feels that “starvation and poverty are a form of violence and they are a non-violent and non-discriminating group.”  Ian Charnas expresses similar thoughts and adds that “he doesn’t volunteer out of guilt. 

      This is not something I do one day a week and then I’ve done my part,” he emphasizes. “All the food that we collect is only 1/10 of the food that is thrown away by local merchants and grocery stores, food that would otherwise spoil from not being sold. . . We could be doing so much more if we had the resources and participation to handle it.” 

      He then gives whips out a startling statistic: in 2003, $4.2 billion were allotted for food stamps, and other federally subsidized food programs. In comparison the military weapons program was allotted $600 billion! The $4.2 billion for food programs are around 1% of the defense budget. That’s why they say: “Food, NOT Bombs!”

      The philosophy of Food Not Bombs is simply stated in a poem on their website: www.clevelandfoodnotbombs.org 


      They cook every Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and serve the food between 4:30/5:00 p.m. until 7:00p.m., or until the food is gone. They usually set up on he south west side of Public Square.

Editor’s Note: If you are interested in volunteering or donating any items, please contact the group at veggies@clevelandfoodnotbombs.org, or call: Rotten Radish @ 216-402-4994 or Josh Soybottom @ 216-308-1612 or The Tower @ 216-939-9246 After this was published, the Food Not Bombs volunteers called to say that they will not be adding a Tuesday meal as reported in this article.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 72 August 2005 Cleveland, Ohio.

Eight Modest Proposals

Commentary by Brian Davis

     With the introduction of the restrictive panhandling legislation, it seems that we are now attempting to legislate improvements Downtown. The panhandling legislation will have no impact on reducing panhandling, but will make businessmen feel like something is being done in an election year. So, NEOCH is suggesting other potential legislation that would bring tourists and shoppers back that may have some impact on revitalizing the downtown.

1. Ban Parking Meters. Legacy Village does not have parking meters and neither does Crocker Park. Parking meters are universally despised, yet every American City has them. Get rid of the meters and attract people from all over the country to see Cleveland’s unique and meter-less landscape.

2. Ban Ticket Writing Parking Attendants. Ticket writers are even more despised than the parking meters and they leave a negative impression of the city for weeks. By eliminating parking tickets, the City will send a signal to the suburbanites that they are welcome to shop downtown. The marketing potential for this strategy is amazing.

3. Ban Traffic Jams. Everyone hates waiting in long lines of traffic, especially because of long lights or idiot drivers. City Council should pass a law that if a driver has a sustained speed of less that 10 MPH for more than 10 minutes, they get a free “We Love Cleveland” T-shirt. 15 T-shirts entitles the individual to a park bench named in their honor, and 25 T-shirts is a free ticket to the publicly financed Brown’s stadium (on non-football Sundays).

4. Ban Mean People from the Central Business District. It is so difficult to shop downtown when people are rude and inconsiderate. Police should be allowed to issue citations to mean people in the heart of Downtown.

5. Ban Pollution in the Downtown Everyone claims to hate pollution, and therefore if it were made illegal, it is hoped that people would come back to live and work in the Downtown area.

6. Ban Empty Store Fronts. They are unsightly and a sign of depressed times. If an owner keeps a store vacant for more than 3 months, they must start paying the City to “beautify” the storefront with historical representations of famous Clevelanders.

 7. Ban All Dead Flowers from Downtown. This is one that my 9 year old daughter thought was important, so I am including it, but there could be some room for compromise.

8. Ban television reruns in the Central Business District. Reruns are universally despised during the summer and winter break in December. City Council should force the television stations to put local original programming on the air in the Downtown area in hopes of attracting residents and visitors.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 72 August 2005 Cleveland, Ohio..

Cleveland Council Passes Panhandling Ordinance

by Kevin E. Cleary

      Panhandling became a divisive hot-button issue this July as Cleveland City Council held deliberations throughout the month on Mayor Campbell’s proposed Ordinance 695-05. An emergency ordinance (meaning that the archaic rules of passing an ordinance were suspended--90% of bills passed in Cleveland are “emergency.”) meant to reduce “aggressive solicitation,” i.e. aggressive panhandling passed 15-2. The bill drew the ire of social justice advocates and the praise of several downtown and Ohio City merchants. The ordinance was passed on Wednesday, July 13, and was virtually unmodified except for a one-year sunset provision added by the Council.

      The law will expire on October 15, 2006. The ordinance was passed by a vote of 15-2, with Councilmen Zachary Reed and Kevin Conwell objecting. The new law is citywide and places restrictions on when and where an individual can solicit donations. It also prohibits the manner in which an individual may ask for money, or any thing of value. Individuals can no longer solicit within 10 feet of an entrance to a building or parking lot. People will no longer be able to solicit within 15 feet of a public toilet facility, or within 20 feet of a bus stop, line of pedestrians, ATM machine, valet zone, or outdoor patio. Following an individual or acting in an aggressive manner during solicitation is also prohibited, as is asking an individual for a contribution more than once. 

      Deliberations chaired by Councilman Reed earlier in the month grew quite heated as several merchants expressed frustration and concern over the increased number of panhandlers in Cleveland. Restaurant owners were often the most vocal as many discussed their inability to stop panhandlers from soliciting money from their patrons dining in outdoor patios. As the patios are often bordered by public sidewalks, panhandlers were previously able to safely solicit money in close proximity to the diners without legally trespassing. Commander Andy Gonzales and Officer John Nichols of the 3rd District also testified in favor of the ordinance, relating both statistical data and personal experience. Commander Gonzales stated that the number of complaint calls about aggressive solicitation had risen from 261 calls in 2000 to 400 in 2004, not including direct calls to the Commander. Officer Nichols described an incident during which he was off-duty and dining in an outdoor patio with a date and was compelled to threaten violence in order to vanquish a persistent panhandler. The representatives of the police force both spoke in favor of the ordinance. According to Officer Nichols, the legislation will give officers a “comprehensive tool” to deal effectively with aggressive panhandlers, and “enhance the perception of public safety.” 

      Social justice advocates such as the NAACP, Tim Walters of the May Dugan Center, Brian Davis of NEOCH, Gary Daniels of the ACLU, Jesse Blakely of the Catholic Worker, and others brought a number of concerns to the table about the new law, including its potential unconstitutionality, the unlikelihood of collecting fines from panhandlers and the potential for this law to be used to discriminate against homeless people. Many were also concerned that panhandlers or police might not be accurately informed of the boundaries placed by this law and subsequently people might be wrongly arrested due to lack of signage demarcating acceptable boundaries. 

      Councilmen Reed held the public hearing to gather information and to garner more input from the community. Councilman Conwell was particularly concerned that the majority of panhandlers are African-American males and that the law might predominantly discriminate against them. He was also concerned that the legislation was overly broad and would do little to actually address the myriad problems associated with aggressive panhandling, and its enforcement might primarily be targeted downtown instead of outlying neighborhoods. He also questioned whether illicit drugs being sold in the community wasn’t a higher priority.

      Craig Tame of the Mayor’s Office responded that the Mayor’s office was “vehemently opposed” to discrimination in the enforcement of the new law, and would closely monitor outcomes to ensure it did not happen. He also made sure to note that the police will still have high priority issues such as domestic violence calls and combating the sale of illicit drugs. According

to Tame, “We’re not taking resources away from our war against drugs.” A complaint call about panhandling is of lower priority, and police response will generally take 45 minutes, according to Commander Gonzales’s testimony.

      Support for the legislation initially seemed to be mixed, although Councilman Michael Dolan expressed his support of the legislation by stating that his wife does not come downtown because of her fears of aggressive panhandlers. Dolan’s expressed support did not result in an affirmative vote for the law however, as he was absent from the vote. 

      Councilman Kevin Kelley expressed concerns that the legislation would also prevent the Salvation Army and local firemen from soliciting donations in restricted areas, and that the law could also be read to prohibit signature gathering for petitions. This was confirmed by Cleveland Legal Department counsel, Rick Horvath.

      Horvath of the Mayor’s Office sought to reassure those present that the law was constitutional in that it placed “reasonable time and place restrictions” but did not prohibit panhandling entirely. “[We have] not gone as far as other cities… we believe it is constitutional.”

      While there were a number of representatives from the business community and advocacy organizations, little attention was paid to the relative absence of panhandlers and homeless people in the deliberations. Only two panhandlers testified during the hearings, prompting Tim Walters to comment that more people with low-incomes might have shown up if it they were not obligated to show ID at the entrance to City Hall.

      Brian Davis, Executive Director of NEOCH also questioned the constitutionality of the panhandling ordinance and felt that the sunset provision was a pointless attempt to satisfy social justice advocates without addressing their real concerns. He expressed concern that the legislation includes no means of measuring its success and will accomplish nothing while punishing poor people. “I guess we’ll know it’s working when Dolan’s wife starts shopping downtown if we still have any businesses downtown.”

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 72 August 2005 Cleveland, Ohio.